After the success of films including The French Connection (1971) ushered in a new vogue for stories about cops operating outside the law, misguided projects such as Deadly Hero were inevitable. The grim saga of a psychopath who operates with impunity because he wears a badge—at least until a courageous witness beholds one of his bloody misdeeds—the picture is bogged down in shortcomings. Primarily, the movie has a choppy rhythm owing to underdeveloped subplots and indecision about which character is the protagonist. Moreover, the title character’s actions become so outrageous that his ability to evade capture becomes unbelievable. And then there’s the whole question of tone, since Deadly Hero is alternately a realistic police story, a clichéd thriller about a stalker, and a mildly interesting character study examining the title character’s humiliating involvement with big-city politicians. Deadly Hero is a straight-up mess, albeit a vivid one.
When the picture begins, Officer Lacy (Don Murray) is a decorated NYPD beat cop riding patrol with his green partner, Billings (Treat Williams, in his first movie role). Lacy has designs on public office, so he sidles up to mayoral candidate named Reilly (George S. Irving). Meanwhile, Sally (Diahn Williams) is a musician who splits her time between teaching children and leading the orchestra for an experimental theater. One night, an eccentric crook claiming to be an ambassador named “Rabbit Shazam” (James Earl Jones) spots Sally at the theater and follows her home. He then threatens to kill her unless Sally’s father pays a ransom, but Lacy and Billings are summoned to Sally’s home by a neighbor who suspects trouble. Lacy disarms Shazam—and then kills the man for no apparent reason. After initially supporting Lacy, Sally eventually comes forward with the truth, becoming a target for Lacy’s revenge.
Although the plot for Deadly Hero is offbeat and provocative, the filmmakers—including hack feature/TV director Ivan Nagy—can’t pull the disparate elements together. For instance, the performances are all over the place. Murray is wildly undisciplined, going cartoonishly over the top at one moment and trying for frightening understatement the next. Williams barely registers as anything but a pleasantly sophisticated cipher. As for Jones, who’s only in the movie for about 20 minutes, he succumbs to silly flamboyance when trying to channel craziness. It’s worth noting that the picture has credible atmosphere thanks to extensive NYC location photography by DP Andrzej Bartkowiak (who did much better work later in his career), and that film-score nerds will easily recognize the driving synth textures that co-composer Brad Fiedel (of Terminator fame) presumably contributed to the soundtrack.
Deadly Hero: FUNKY